Historical status for old homes?

by Mike LAWLER

An upcoming fun local event is the Crescenta Cañada Historic Home Tour on Saturday, Nov. 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We’re calling it the “Sticks and Stones” tour because the native construction materials used in these early local houses are wood and rock. On this tour we’ll be showing some spectacular local gems including a couple Craftsman palaces, plus some homey rock houses. The self-guided tour starts at the granddaddy stone structure of them all, St. Luke’s Church. Each home has a full history written up in the guidebook you’ll get with your ticket. It’s a great opportunity to connect with the heritage of our area. Pick up your tickets at St. Luke’s on the day of the tour and enjoy the free art show going on there that day.

Nearly all of the homes on the tour should be “historic landmarks” but none of them actually are. One or two of the homes may work their way toward it, but the majority of them don’t even have the option.

I am often asked by people living in potentially historic homes if they can list their homes as landmarks and the answer I give is simple. If you live west of Pennsylvania or south of Honolulu, yes. If not, no. Both Tujunga and Glendale have robust historic landmark programs, with huge financial benefits for listing your home. Tujunga (which is City of Los Angeles) and Glendale both participate in the Mills Act, which provides financial incentive for listing and maintaining your historic home. The homeowners basically get back about half or their yearly property tax payments, which for a recently purchased home can amount to a few thousand dollars.

The qualifications for listing a historic home are fairly straightforward. The house can’t just be a cool old house, it has to be unique like being the only example of that particular style of house in the neighborhood, or somebody famous or significant to the community had to design it, build it, or live in it. If you’ve got both, the listing is a given. The Bonetto House on Manhattan just off La Crescenta Avenue is a good example. The house is a great English-style brick house built with “clinker” bricks, the only example of that architecture around here. In addition, it was built and owned by Tom and Florence Bonetto, who were community leaders in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. This house was a shoe-in for listing on the Glendale Historic Register when the homeowner applied a few years ago. They got a plaque on their house and signed a Mills Act contract.

However, if you live in the county portion of La Crescenta or La Cañada, forget it. Neither of them has any mechanism for local historic recognition, so if a homeowner still wanted to try they would have to go all the way to State Historic Landmark Status, or National Historic Register, which carries more stringent requirements. Even if they did achieve this, there’s no Mills Act participation by Los Angeles County or La Cañada, and thus no financial incentive to the homeowner.

What would it take to get the county going on a historic home program for unincorporated La Crescenta? A hell of a lot of work, that’s what! I think someone (maybe me) will do it eventually. The benefits are significant in terms of increased property values. One need only look at the home prices and community pride in some of Glendale’s new “historic districts” to see that something like this would be great for La Crescenta. The old bugaboos about you not being able to change your doorknob after gaining historic status are garbage.

So if you own a cool old house in Glendale or Tujunga, and you think you’d like to give historic status a try, shoot me an email and I’ll get you hooked up with the right people to guide you through the process. If you think, like I do, that historical property designation would be good for unincorporated CV and La Cañada, maybe it’s time to get this effort in gear.